tv [untitled] August 2, 2011 3:30am-4:00am PDT
we are the voters to have to take responsibility and take this power away from them. >> are you aware of any other city other than san francisco, where an elected district attorney has announced that they will have a policy of not using the death penalty in a state where this is the law? >> i am not aware of any district attorney who has this explicit policy but we have had conversations with many different attorneys with problems with the death penalty, and we have seen in changing what they do, scaling back dramatically the number of death penalty prosecutions in california county and in other states. and they have quietly abandoned the death penalty even though they have not explicitly said that this is what they are doing. >> do you feel that -- the
district attorney that we have, gason, -- gaston, fits into this category? >> i will have to see what happens. >> i will go to john thompson. we were talking about how often, you have public opinion polls on the death penalty but the last -- the wrong question is asked, do you support the death penalty or something like that. can you elaborate on this? >> this is a tricky question that we have been tricked into believing, so that people say, do you support the death penalty. this is a trick question. you will not put yourself in that position of being placed under arrest based on these reports. we ask you if you support this
and eliminates you automatically. if you ask that same question in a different way, meaning the use of what the state killing you, that is the question. you have no control over the death penalty. he is the only one to make this decision. he is the only one -- he does not want to make the decision. this is a tricky question from the beginning. do we support the death penalty? we never placed ourselves in this position. do you give the state the right to kill you. this is the question and see what the response will be. >> let me ask him that question. do you support the death penalty, under what conditions do you want the state to be allowed to kill you if there was a law enforcement officer trying to evaluate whether or not to seek the death penalty. >> many of us will not say that
we want to stay to be able to kill us. i am not certain that this is the way the question needs to be framed. i think that mrs. woodruff -- they are embracing the point that has been discussed. these are very complex issues. i am not certain that modern society, that the state should have the power of life or death. i understand all the nuances as to why this is here, as well as why this should not be here. i do believe that because of the technology and what we know today, which is there a different from what we knew 20 years ago, increasingly we know that there are cases of wrongful convictions. this should give all of us a reason to pause and think.
and assess whether this is a valid tool in the criminal justice system. i do not think -- the question is about if you want to stay to be able to kill you. nobody will go out and say that they want people to kill them. but there is an inequity, especially in the way that the death penalty has been applied, that should give all of us a reason to talk about whether this is a practice we want to engage in. >> i asked that question. when i was contemplating is the idea that he brings up, which is, if you frame this from the point of view, under what conditions would you want to stay to be able to kill you, a supporter of the death penalty may form an answer that says, if i were found guilty of a heinous murder, and i was done -- as was done in a certain mental state,
and i created a certain amount of harm, you may go down the spaces. this was the spirit in which i presented this, asking it this way does cause a certain amount of recoil away from the question. none of us would want to be in this position. harris has come up as somebody -- and jerry brown was also the governor of the state of california, he was the attorney general and they have at times in the history when they were personally against the death penalty. when they ran for attorney general they both said that they would not interfere with the state law, and they would allow the death penalty to be carried out on their watch. this is correct? in fairness, i will say that there were a lot of law enforcement officials the route
the state of california that had severe reservations about supporting harris for attorney general because of the opposition to the death penalty in san francisco. but george defended her and actually supported her candidacy, and this was an important component of getting support from law enforcement for her. let me ask you this. when we spoke yesterday, as i heard his story i asked him, how did you survive death row? the mechanics of this. i asked about how much time in the yard that he got. i wonder if you could share with members of -- in the auditorium where your daily life was like on death row. >> i cannot handle i was watching. this was death row in louisiana.
you have three televisions on the wall, you were in your cell 23 hours per day, you get out for the shower or exercise, -- >> let me interrupt you to make this clear. you are completely alone, and the televisions are outside of the cell, or multiple inmates can be watching them? and they all may be on different channels? and you have to hear this even if you are not watching television? >> this is crazy. you have sought -- you have for televisions and four different channels, 15 people tried to talk at the same time. i was there was a mentally disturbed people and they actually had to have shot to calm them down, whatever kinds of drugs that they give them to calm them down.
you have to deal with all of this insanity. sometimes they would spread them with pepper spray to get them to take the shots. these kinds of situations, you could not get around and you could not deal with. by the same token, you say, why is that man on the death row with mental problems, you have to feed him medication every day just to keep him down. death row -- this is not the place where -- i don't understand why i am able to function in any capacity because of what had to go through on death row. i just count this as a lesson from god, to enable me to come out here and tell my story to you, and i hope that we as a people can make a difference, to bring about change.
and maybe this return will hear me some time. [applause] >>, the hours per day which allowed to go outside? >> 45 minutes. 15 minutes for the shower. >> was anyone else allowed? >> this is pretty much the same way. we would go into cages, like you would keep a wild animal. they take the shackles and allow you to do whatever exercise that he would do during that time. and then you go back to your shop -- or sell and take a shower. >> i want to invite members of the public who are with us, the want to ask any of the palace questions. they are passing out some
papers, so let me ask -- there is often an argument that is put out, that the death penalty can serve as a deterrent to crime, and i am wondering, if either of you think that this is a compelling argument and if this plays any role if you have opposition to the death penalty on moral or ethical basis. >> i do not know of any studies that show that the death penalty is a crime deterrent, for punishment to be returned this has to be swift, and this is not the case with the death penalty. there are many homicides to do not end with the district attorney is seeking the death penalty. this is a small percentage of homicides where we seek the death penalty. this is a good thing but this does not deter people. it is so many years before this
is carried out, if they carry this out at all. most of the inmates died through suicide or by old age. for those reasons, this is not a deterrent. >> f i was plotting the murder of my partner because the slept in this morning, i would not think about if i was going to get the death penalty or spend the rest of my life in prison. i would ask myself if i would get caught. in california, half of the people who commit murder are not caught. we need to catch the people committing murder. this is what she means when punishment must be firm, if people get away with murder, they learn that they can and the community learns that they can. this is really the fundamental problem. we can do much better job if we
were actually to replace the death penalty to life without parole and invest the money saved in solving homicides. every victim's family should have some justice. >> i wanted to ask you to perhaps tell the audience about the controversy related to the death qualified jury. many people did not realize that when we select a jury for the death penalty case, this is comprised of different members of the city. >> people look to california as we continue to send a lot of people to death row every year, with the highest number of new death sentences. opposition. he said this process has made the death penalty fundamentally unfair.
>> i will let you answer these in order. can you share any sense that you have a death sentence -- that the death sentence inmates were for themselves as human beings? and how could you bear to preside over an execution and how would you handle this? please describe a situation where you would bring so many charges against a prosecutor for job-related conduct? >> as you have both said, this is determined before the execution takes place, this goes from 10 and on up. one of the strangest things that happen to me when i was first sent to death row in was that they were getting ready to execute a guy.
and during this course of the execution, they prayed for the victim and their families. this was shocking to me. i am innocent. but everyone here, they will pray. death row in louisiana, you cannot see outside -- you can see outside, and you can see the front gates of the prison, so on execution nights, you can see the people outside protesting. that created the atmosphere that we needed to pray for the people that were saying "kill, kill." that was everlasting on me. it made me really come home and work for the resource center right away.
i understood that these people or human as well. we are all human. we might have made mistakes in life, but they are human. how many of us made mistakes? i had a few guys that were in iraq, that were fighting for our country and came home and reenlisted back in the army to go back over there. they went to a bar, got into a fight that led to the killing. the military -- they break them. there are some real good people on death row that were not the people that came to death row that committed the crime or did not commit the crime. i'm not here to say who did or did not do something, but to see that side that people do not get to hear about. they do not get to hear that these guys pray to god, that they pray for the victims'
families out there, no matter who they are. it was something everybody did on death row. it was a rule of law. when is the time of execution, no one eats. it was a compassionate part of you remembering you were human, you remember that these people are hurting out side, and you -- and trying to ask god to heal them of their hurt -- remember that these people are hurting outside, and you reaching and trying to ask god to heal them of their heart. to me, i can only speak for louisiana, and they did reach to god. they did fast. >> if i could add on to what you just stated, i worked at san quentin for 27 years, and i feel like i grew up with a lot of the inmates that were there, just coming out of college, so i saw
a lot of them change, including inmates who had been on death row prior to the supreme court overturning capital punishment. many of them were off of death row and sentenced to seven to life, and some of those individuals were paroled and have done very well out in society. i remember one who worked with the catholic church and worked through the restorative justice program to meet with surviving family members. it was actually televised. that is how much that individual changed. then he went on to have a very successful career and retired on a golf course in florida, as a matter of fact. they were debating the death penalty at the country club one day, and he said in two weeks, he would bring its former death row inmate. two weeks later, he walked in the room. he said that he immediately changed the minds of those
arguing for the death penalty. that is just one powerful case, but there are many stories like that. i know that was not my question, but -- [laughter] >> your question was how could you bear to preside over an execution. how did you handle it? >> i would tell myself that it was my role to lead, and leading that many things to me. that meant leaving my staff for the process. it meant leaving the inmates at the facility through the process. it meant reaching out to the family members of both the victim and the inmate. i just focused on what my responsibility was and my efforts to conduct this professionally and humanely as possible. in hindsight, i look back at that and realize that it had much more of an impact on me than i knew at the time.
i knew when i carried out the last execution that i would not do it again. i got very sick after that execution, but that is what it was like for me. i practiced what i call servant leadership. i would get home at about 2:00 in the morning and find it difficult to do anything but pace in my house with everybody else is asleep and return to the prison as early as 6:30 or 7:00 the next morning to check on everyone, and that is how i handled it -- pace in my house with everybody asleep. >> describe a situation where you would bring felony charges against a prosecutor for job- related conduct. >> if we had evidence that a prosecutor has engaged in felonious conduct, we would evaluate the evidence. it is what we would do in any other case. we determine the level of the conduct, the quality of the evidence, whether the evidence will be admissible in court in order to meet our burden of proof, which is the element of
reasonable doubt. then we would probably prosecute a prosecutor or a police officer for his conduct. >> he is giving you a set of parameters that it would have to fit under. i do not think he is giving a specific instance of it. do you want to add anything to that? >> i'm trying to think of an example that would actually fall -- that would be a statutory felony, one, and as far as misconduct in the courtroom -- because, obviously, there are many felonies. when a prosecutor commits murder and we have sufficient evidence, we will prosecute him or her as we would anyone else. it would have to be conduct in the courtroom that amounts to statutory a felony. if that is present, then there is an evaluation of the evidence, and what the evidence be able to survive through a court proceeding?
and establish beyond a reasonable doubt for a jury that the conduct and effect actually occurred. we work not in an emotional world, hopefully. we are working with a more clinical assessment of evidence and whether we had a case. frankly, again, just taking a step back, why am i here today? it is because i am convinced that there are many things we can do differently in reforming our system. for instance, we have not created a uniform intake process in our office. it is in the process of being developed, but one of the things i want to eliminate is the process that occurs throughout prosecutorial agencies around the country, the overcharging of cases in order to engage in plea-bargain later on. i personally disagree with that. [applause] we have to reform the system, and it has to be across the board.
whether you are a prosecutor or police officer or member of the public, you need to be held accountable to the same rules. when someone in a position of authority violates a rule, the implications of that are greater, and we need to take a closer look. i have caused more police officers to be terminated from employment than probably anyone in this room. i have had police officers that have been prosecuted for criminal conduct. i have been in this business a long time. i have no patience for bad official conduct. when i came to the sfpd, one of the first things we did was create an internal affairs unit with the criminal section. i recognize quickly the sometimes criminal misconduct internally was not being handled appropriately. i am not an apologist. when i tell you that there are people in positions of authority that do not abuse their authority, there are.
when people in positions of authority abuse their authority, you have to make sure that you have the fortitude to make sure the right things occur. >> what do the polls say about an initiative repealing the death penalty? you kind of address that a little bit, but i think you address it in -- addressed it in that it was based on financing and cost. the other question -- can you talk about what would happen logistically if all sentences were commuted to life without possibility of parole? >> the most recent poll i mentioned was on the question of the governor converting all the death sentences to life without parole and the potential cost savings of $1 billion, which shows 63% support. polls consistently show that when california voters are offered the choice between the death penalty and the option of life without possibility of parole, voters prefer the option of life without parole.
a poll was done in 2009 by a professor at uc santa cruz where he asked about replacing the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole with work and restitution, whether it is people -- with the people sentenced to life without parole would be required to work and some of the restitution would go to victims, and 2/3 of californians chose the option of life without parole and preferred that alternative. there is very strong support among voters for replacing the death penalty. in terms of how it would work, the governor has absolute authority to change any criminal sentence he wants, and that includes a death sentence, which he has the power to convert with -- convert to life without possibility of parole. the governor would take that action, most cases would completely end with him. he could change those sentences himself. fork cases where the person has two prior convictions, they would go to the california
supreme court for further review, and four justices on the california supreme court would need to approve the governor's action in that case. the california supreme court spends over 1/3 of their time working on death penalty cases, and they are under enormous pressure financially. the entire judicial system is. while we do not know what the supreme court would do, it would certainly be a huge relief to them to have these death penalty cases go away. after the death sentences had been converted to life without parole, it would be a question of reclassifying the inmates and moving them into other high- security prisons across california. then, the question of where they were in the appellate process would have to be addressed by the courts. in fact, both people -- most people on death row are still waiting for attorneys to be appointed, so in most cases, their appeals have not even begun. not most, 45%. they do not have habeas counsel,
and many do not even have their first appellate attorney. a lot of this cases would simply be treated as life without parole appeals. for the cases that are later in the states, courts would have to address whether the appeals continue or whether or not their sentence had been changed to life without parole simply resolve all the issues in their case and ended the appeals process. >> we've got less than five minutes, so i want to invite the panelists each to say something in closing. maybe you could each take a minute, whoever would like to go first. >> we can go this way, so i will start. it is a great pleasure to be here. it is a wonderful crowd today, and this is a wonderful panel to be here with. each of these individuals have enormous life experience that is so much more important than anything i could say, and i have learned a lot being on this
panel which east of them -- with each of them, and i appreciate them taking the time to share their views and being so honest and forthcoming. these are exactly the voices we need to end the death penalty in california and across the country, and i hope all of you will get involved and go to the website -- deathpenalty.org -- and you will find many ways to get involved. particularly right now, telling the governor to cut the death penalty, to convert all death sentences. if each of you were to go home and take that action, to send an e-mail message or hand write a letter to the governor, that would make a huge difference. together, we can end